The ongoing quest for more efficient, greener power seems to touch on almost every aspect of modern life, including cars, home electricity, manufacturing and building construction. Even lighting has come under scrutiny.

In that regard, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy finds that, of the three most common choices, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the most efficient and friendliest to the environment. The report, “LED Manufacturing and Performance,” compares LEDs, incandescents and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). It examines every stage of their life cycles, including manufacturing, assembly, transport, operation and disposal.

The study concludes that CFLs and LEDs are similar in their energy consumption and that both consume far less electricity over the same period of usage than incandescent lamps. Nevertheless, LEDs are the efficiency champions, consuming only 12.5 watts (W) of electricity to produce the same amount of light as CFLs (15W) and incandescents (60W).

The study also finds that, for all three products, operation accounts for the majority of the energy used during their life cycles. Consequently, the energy used during their operation also accounts for the majority of their environmental impact.
CFLs bested LEDs in only one of 15 measurements: their contribution to landfills. The aluminum contained in an LED’s large heat sink causes a greater environmental effect because of the energy and resources consumed in its manufacturing. LEDs were found to have a slightly lower environmental effect than CFLs in all of the other 14 measurements.

The report projects that, in five years, the environmental effects of LEDs will be significantly lower than today’s LED products, based on expected near-term improvements in LED technology.

Furthermore, as the market transitions from incandescent sources to energy-saving light sources that save consumers and businesses, money after payback, the report projects LEDs and CFLs to achieve substantial reductions in environmental effects on the order of three to 10 times current levels.